It's time we give credit where credit is due. Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe have answered the call.
This may be a surprise for some of you, but guess what? The Chiefs are 7-4 after blowing out their last two opponents and find themselves all alone atop the AFC West. The team has a young, rejuvenated defense that is making plays and the league's best rushing attack. Yet, somehow, after a 42-24 spanking handed to the Seahawks in Seattle, the talk in Kansas City this week will be Cassel and Bowe.
And get this — the "talk" won't be of the usual, negative sort.
Yes, it was just three weeks ago this very blog called out the leaders of the Chiefs' passing-attack after an embarrassing blowout-loss in Denver left the team out of first-place with plenty of bloated statistics to go around. Cassel threw four touchdown passes and set a career-high for passing yards while Bowe set new personal bests for catches and yards in the game.
The team, however, lost by 20.
This past Sunday, on the other hand, was a completely different story. Cassel connected on 22 of 32 pass attempts for a modest 233 yards. Mix in four more touchdown passes and no interceptions, though, and you'll find the performance was nearly flawless. For Cassel and the Chiefs, though, the most important part was a masterful opening drive, including three connections to Bowe (one in the endzone) that set the tone for the game.
A week before against an overmatched Cardinals team at Arrowhead, Cassel looked nearly as impressive in leading his team to victory. Altogether, his 22 to four touchdown to interception ratio on the season is second only to Tom Brady's 23 to four (Michael Vick's partial-season 13 to one mark notwithstanding). In fact, since the Colts game in early October, Cassel has an absolutely remarkable 18 touchdown passes to go along with just one pick.
Bowe's rise has been more gradual, yet possibly even more impressive. Since his would-have-been game-winning drop in Oakland a month ago, the fourth-year receiver has more than taken a step forward. His stat line from that three-game span — 32 receptions for 465 yards and seven touchdowns — is outstanding, but it doesn't exactly tell the whole story. What's been more telling is Cassel's dependency on Bowe in key third-down situations and in the redzone — where games are decided — and the receiver's ability to come through, as we saw Sunday.
Overall, Bowe's 14 touchdown catches on the season has already set a new franchise-high with five games remaining.
Together, the tandem has helped Chiefs fans forget about the ugly truth that was ten victories in the three previous seasons combined, all the while making dreams of a deep playoff-run this season a little closer to reality.
Talks of Cassel being nothing more than the ultimate game-manager have gone by the wayside, and this is with a platoon of serviceable-at-best number-two receivers (Verron Tucker, Terrance Copper, and Chris Chambers) alongside Bowe. It's also easy to forget the team has been without its playmaking, rookie-sensation slot-receiver, Dexter McCluster for over a month.
Coming into 2010, Bowe was seen as nothing more than another underachieving former first-round draft pick who talked too much. With the recent professionalism on and off the field, though, he has just about closed the door on the days of mistakenly referring to his team's owner's family as "the Clarks" and venting to reporters about women being imported to the players — the likes of which make current coaches and teammates cringe.
The two have certainly exceeded expectations, but let's leave the empty statistics and meaningless Pro Bowl debate for the Denvers and Cincinattis of the world. For Cassel and Bowe, let's allow the Chiefs' 2010 season thus-far be defined by two facts — a 7-4 record and a first-place standing.
The Chargers are just a game off the pace, seemingly breathing down the Chiefs' collective neck, setting up a monster-of-a-game in San Diego in two weeks. The Broncos come to Arrowhead this Sunday. It seems almost unfair that the team's accomplishments so far, led by Cassel and Bowe of late, would mean next to nothing in this city unless the team is playing games in January.
The tandem can ill-afford to let up. If this tale is to have a happy ending, they won't.